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People, we have a fight on our hands

“The National Commission would like to re-emphasize that journalists and the media as a whole have a duty to inform the public and the public has a right to receive information. As such members of the fourth estate require an enabling and secure environment to optimally enjoy their rights and freedoms in the course of their duties. This environment should and can only be provided by the State as the principal duty bearer.” 2018 State of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Kenya, Kenya National Human Rights Commission.

The “2018 State of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Kenya” published last week by Kenya National Human Rights Commission, a state organ, makes depressing reading. Not that the report says anything we do not know already. It is depressing that almost eight years after promulgation of the new constitution with a comprehensive Bill of Rights, which was celebrated as heralding a new era, that era has not yet dawned. We could as well be talking about Kenya in the 1980s. Or even another country in the neighbourhood.

The report paints a picture of routine violation of the full range of rights of citizens guaranteed in the constitution. National sovereignty belongs to the people of Kenya, yet the people appear to be treated as subjects and not citizens. It is frightening.

The right to life, which is the foundation of all human rights, is treated with callous disregard.

In three reports last year, KNHR “documented worrying trends of human rights violations that included 101 cases of deaths (10 among them children), 247 cases of injuries, 37 cases of damage to property, 64 cases of bribery, 85 cases of misuse of public resources, 46 cases of misuse of children and school grounds during campaigns, 39 cases of incitement and 123 cases of electoral related sexual and gender based violence (SGBV)”.

Local and international media and other human rights organizations have also highlighted these cases. But no investigations of the violations have been done and the perpetrators, mostly law enforcement agents, brought to justice.

Might, it seems, is right.

“Members of Civil Society Organizations, community leaders, paralegals, social workers, media practitioners, volunteer lawyers, Human Rights Defenders are central in advancing the rights of the vulnerable in our midst and advancing democratization processes in our region,” the KNHCR report says. Yet all these groups work in a hostile political environment where their activities are, at best, tolerated.

“Moreover, attempts to ‘regulate’ the media, especially the new age media, that is, social media [have] in some instances opened an avenue to harass and victimize Kenyans. Further, the National Commission holds that the media switch off of three (3) Television Broadcasting Stations earlier this year was an affront to Article 34 of the Constitution which guarantees freedom and independence of electronic, print and all other types of media,” the report says.

Like many other institutions, both public and private, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights has made a raft of recommendations addressed to the state to enhance its commitment to human rights for the good of all Kenyans. But whether such recommendations mean anything entirely depends on the political will to implement them.

Where Kenya will end up, if this situation is allowed to continue, is dreadful to contemplate.

Media must fight on to protect its constitutional space.

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